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Cameras that alter time and how they could save your life

Richard Brooks

Koror — Cameras can provide you with a window through time. They can capture tiny fractions of it as photos, extended periods of it as video in “Real Time” or they can allow you to see the world in fractions of time you cannot perceive with the naked eye.

They can speed up time as in time-lapses, where we see clouds race across the sky or the plants growing, tides changing. They can also slow down time. These are my favorites. Cameras

That, instead of exposing 24 or 30 frames a second in real time, expose 3,000+ frames a second. That’s slowing things down 100 times.

It’s almost needless to say that I love slow motion cameras. They have the ability to produce some of the most mesmerizing footage in existence. My most favorite clips I have ever seen are

shot in slow motion.

Liquid especially and animals interacting with it spring to mind, whether it is a sea lion torpedoing through and out of the clear wake from a boat or as I shot in Palau a few years ago a small seabird, a tern diving into the water to catch a fish and emerging from it shaking itself five or six times within a wing beat as it shed itself of the water droplets. Conversely my other favorite is a shot of a lightning bolt slowly grounding itself, something that happens in the blink of an eye.

Cameras capable of this don’t come cheap but have been around for longer than many people think.

Indeed one of the first examples of high speed photography was in 1878 where a Englishman called Eadweard Muybridge demonstrated that all 4 hooves of a horse left the ground at once during a gallop.

Over the decades technology improved so that cameras had frames rates of 10,000 frames per second and incredible discoveries started to be made within interesting applications.

For instance in 1959 Mercedes Benz started using high speed photography to analyze car crash experiments. By filming the vehicles being deliberately crashed in a variety of ways the engineers could see over and over again in slow motion something that was over in a split second and was costly to repeat. They could see how different parts of the vehicle became damaged enabling them to strengthen parts and at the same time they also started to use what became known as crash test dummies. These dummies were loaded with accelerometers and devices to measure the impact forces during crashes.

All this research eventually led to seatbelts being installed in cars, initially as option extras in the late 1950s. Then once Volvo started offering them as standard, everyone else followed suit. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, in the UK at least, that wearing a seat belt in the front was made compulsory.

People still complained that it restricted them and they didn’t need them and most refused, and it was at that point that the government decided to educate the public.

Slow motion cameras were used to incredible effect to show the skeptics what would happen to them in a crash if they were not buckled up.

The public information campaign had such a dramatic

impact on their viewers, who effectively received the warnings after watching the films. Footage shot at thousands of frames a second showed in horrific clarity what happened to crash test dummies in accidents if they were unrestrained. People saw for the first time that children and adults were catapulted through windscreens completely leaving the vehicle. They saw how grotesquely distorted the dummies became as they hit the interior of the car with such force their ribcage was crushed. Head injuries were deemed a hundred percent fatal when hitting the steering wheel or dashboard at speeds as low as 30mph.

Richard Brooks owns Lightning Strike Production, which covers everything from underwater to aerials. See his work at

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